(Originally published in the Jan/Feb edition of NZ Little Treasures Magazine)

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When both my daughters took an early shining to solids (Tilly actually flung herself from my lap, face-first, into her big sister’s mashed potato at 4.5 months, and Amy’s first tentative sentence was “more yum-yums!”), I thought we were off to a cracking start and would soon be eating as a family, every night.

Then a few curve balls got in the way…

Dinner Is So Early! If you’re bedding by 7, and factoring in time after dinner for bath, stories, cuddles, and even the most low-drama of pyjama putting on, you rapidly run out of evening. Both my girls descend into meltdown mode if they’re not loading their tummies by 4.55pm on a good day, so week-night dinners are often simply too early for all family members to be present for.

Mess! Amy and Tilly both discovered the joys of eating and blowing raspberries simultaneously. It’s astounding how fast and far pureed pumpkin can fly from a baby’s mouth. Tilly insists on waving around a spoon of her own when I’m feeding her, which generally results in her catapulting mush across the room/into my hair. Seating arrangements had to be revised to ensure that the splatter zone around the high chair fell short of the cream carpet. Carpet we’d installed when I was pregnant with Amy, having smugly decided that our future children would tidily eat at the table, and would never stray from the wooden floor with food in their hand (we foolishly never even imagined the scenario where our toddler emptied the contents of her Spaghetti Bolognese-filled tummy all over the carpet).

The Rejection! It’s surely a scientific fact that the amount of time, energy and love you put into creating a meal directly correlates with the level of disgust your children will express in return. Amy claims to be “frightened” of food she doesn’t want to eat (pretty much anything except pasta – vegetables are particularly threatening); Tilly closes her mouth into a gummy little trap and waves her hands so fast I can’t get the spoon near her. If we’ve got people coming over for an early dinner and I want to portray the illusion that we harmoniously eat together, I make something involving pasta. With no menacing vegetables visible.

The Noise and…Wait, What Were You Saying? I can’t remember the last time my husband and I had an uninterrupted conversation with our children in the same house, let alone over a shared meal. There’s no time to talk, because we’re constantly reiterating “we use quiet voices inside”, coaxing spoons of mush into the baby and retrieving lovingly prepared finger-food from the floor. Any conversations we do have are heavily peppered with requests that Amy eat the broccoli/not blow bubbles in her water/stop encouraging Tilly to blow raspberries/stop feeding the cat bits of her dinner/Eat. The. Broccoli. And the clean up! Do all babies behave as if you’re washing their hands and face with a cloth dipped in acid? Or just mine? We thought girls would be quiet. Maybe some are, but ours aren’t. When the noises are bubbly, excited ones love it. When the noises are whingey, tantrummy ones, I want to plug my ears with kumara (or whatever vegetable is currently being rejected).

When both girls are sufficiently fed, I quite often look at my own plate and find that either a) my entire meal is still sitting there, cold, or b) my plate is empty but I have no recollection of tasting anything. My glass of whatever-wine-was-on-special-at-Countdown is invariably empty, though.

Eating together isn’t always possible, and sometimes I wish I’d just cooked plain pasta and opened a jar of baby food instead of TRYING TO COOK SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR A CHANGE. Other days I see the pure joy on Amy’s face when I tell her we’re going to be eating her favourite dinner together, and the gummy smiles from Tilly as she works out how to pick up peas and squish them. One day, dinner won’t be at Rest-Home times, the mess will be minimal, maybe there’ll even be help with the dishes, and we’ll all have conversations together (until the teenage years hit and we get accused of Ruining Lives every five minutes). But I know we’ll miss the days of chiselling dried baby food off table legs and explaining why broccoli isn’t scary.

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